IRS Publication 971: Innocent Spouse Relief

DEFINITION of 'IRS Publication 971: Innocent Spouse Relief'

A document published by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that outlines the three types of tax liability relief for spouses or former spouses who filed joint income tax returns. Couples filing a joint tax return are both liable for the tax liability, referred to as joint and several liability. In the case of a separation, the IRS will continue to consider the tax liability status as joint and several, but in some cases will relieve one partner of any tax, interest and penalties related to the joint tax filing.


The three types of relief are innocent spouse relief, separation liability relief and equitable relief.

BREAKING DOWN 'IRS Publication 971: Innocent Spouse Relief'

Spouses must complete and file Form 8857 (Request for Innocent Spouse Relief) as soon as they become aware of a liability that they think only the other spouse or former spouse should be liable for. Spouses or former spouses have up to two years from the date the IRS first tried to collect the tax liability to seek relief. The IRS is then obligated to contact the spouse or former spouse to notify them that Form 8857 was filed.


Married spouses who file separate returns but live in community-property states may also seek relief.


IRS Publication 971 does not cover injured spouse relief.